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Monday, December 20, 2010

Business as Usual: My Journey with Chrome OS (Part 2)

Google Chrome OS, the cutting-edge cloud-based operating system that runs only a web browser, is making its debut in Google's pilot program that tens of thousands of users have signed up for. So far Google has shipped approximately 14,000 netbooks to users across the country, and nobody is keeping quiet about it. As always, there are those with good reviews, bad reviews, and pragmatically neutral reviews. In my own opinion, I fall into that neutral category. I realize that Chrome OS has its limitations (some of which I will tell you about in this post), but it also has many opportunities of success. Google Chrome OS is a little bit ahead of its time, but it is way to early to judge what will happen with it, and what the public will decide to do with it.

The primary limitation of Google Chrome OS is the fact that people are just not read to go cloud. While people like myself may embrace Google Docs with much joy, there are people out there who have not even heard of OpenOffice, let alone online alternatives to Microsoft Word. However, the fact the most used program on a computer is probably the web browser, and that Chrome OS can get you on that web browser in mere seconds, is bound to attract customers, and as more and more companies and services move online, the idea of a completely online computer will become more and more realistic. Before I get to Chrome OS itself, I just have to point out one of the more amusing arguments against Chrome OS I have heard. Moe than one person has expressed a sentiment that Chrome OS will fail because it runs Linux. They claim that the problems with Linux, primarily compatibility issues, will hinder the user experience on a Chrome Notebook. Such arguments are blatantly fallacious. Whether Linux can run Microsoft Outlooks or any such program is irrelevant on an operating system specifically made only to run a web browser. Linux is actually the best choice base for Chrome OS because the high customizability of the platform is what allows Google to even make Chrome OS in the first place.

But moving on to the netbook itself. For those who do not know I am an senior in high school in New York City, so my usage of the Chrome Notebook is slightly different from other consumers. Last Friday and today I took my Chrome Notebook to school and wrote down all of my notes and homework, including math class, using the netbook. The experience left a lot to be desired, but overall was exciting and even seemed to make my school day more interesting than it usually is. Writing notes and equations in Google Docs was simple and easy, and startup and shutdown was not a problem in between classes since Chrome OS seamlessly sleeps and wakes up when you open and close the lid of the netbook. You would think constructing equations in Google Docs would be tough to deal with, but the equation editor in Google Docs supports LATeX, an easy to learn typesetting language. I cannot say how easy it would be to work with in higher math classes, but for my high school calculus class everything was satisfactory.


The main problem you will run into when working with the Chrome Notebook is the lack of right click. The trackpad does not have right click abilities, so to conjure up any context menu you must hold down the Alt key and then left click, and even then the trick does not work half of the time. It has not completely hindered my use of the operating system, since most websites do not use right click, but in certain situations, such as spell check in Google Docs, it becomes cumbersome to use.

What I really love about the Chrome Notebook, though, is its fast startup time. I talked about it before, but as time went on it became apparent exactly how amazing it is to have your laptop start in less than ten seconds (or less than one second if it is waking up from sleep). Rather than press the power button and get some coffee as everything loads, you simply open the lid and you are instantly on the Internet. Conversely, being able to sleep by closing the lid and shut down by holding the power button for about a second makes it easy to pack up and go without being held up by a lengthy shutdown process. Even better is the fact that all your tabs and work will be saved, allowing you to pick back upi where you started without reopening your tabs.

If you consider yourself a busy person, then Chrome OS will be useful for you. While it is true that many people are just not ready to go online, whether beit is because they are hesitant or because they just do not know how, the elimination lf latency that comes with the Chrome Notebook is a powerful feature, and though there are quite a few minor bugs, it is nothing that cannot be worked out by Google. It cannot be said how much success the Chrome Notebook will see; it all has to do with what strategies Google uses and how much people are willing to trust Google, but an entirely online computer is not an unrealistic concept anymore, and it is only a glimpse of what generations to come will be using as their personal toys. Twenty years ago, nobody would have guessed that the Internet would catch on so quickly, and yet again we are presented with a unique concept that people are doubint gwill catch on. I have faith in Google and in cloud computing in general, but we will just have to wait and see if this is jsut a temporary fad or a major revolution in personal computing.

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